Don't allow regulators to establish privacy rules that may directly impact your business without your voice being heard.
The goal then was to increase consumer education and transparency with e-mail marketing, notably with e-mail list sharing.
Fast forward more than seven years to the FTC's recent privacy report, and the marketing industry is being urged once again to review and update industry practices. The FTC and other policy makers have been calling, in particular, for privacy and data use notices to be "clearer, shorter and more standardized." While the FTC is still defining what this means, and expects that the industry will provide appropriate feedback on this preliminary report and proposed framework, here are some issues to consider in advance of the final framework.
First-Party vs. Third-Party Marketing
The FTC report makes a clear distinction between consumer acceptance of first-party marketing practices versus other marketing practices, which is a good start toward building consensus. The report goes so far as to state that it is not necessary to require users to give consent for each and every type of first-party or "customer-related" marketing practice, such as e-mail product recommendations based on prior purchases or sharing data with e-mail service providers (ESPs) who assist with marketing efforts on behalf of a first party. However, when it comes to sharing data with affiliates that are not under a common brand, the report recommends enhanced disclosures and user choices, which may be a bit more controversial.
Permission Is Neither Black nor White
While reviewing my past contributions to ClickZ, this column about e-mail permission is not only still valid, but is now re-enforced by the FTC in the report, when it states that:
"Indeed, a clear, simple, and prominent opt-out mechanism may be more privacy protective than a confusing, opaque opt-in."
This doesn't mean that all marketers should start pre-checking boxes that are currently unchecked, but rather ask someone who is not in your company or industry, like a parent or child, to read the consent language and see if it makes sense upon the first reading. The goal should be to have language and a format that’s clear and understandable. This may take a focus group, or even consider testing it as is typically done with landing page optimization, to ensure optimum usability.
The Real Task: Making Marketing Notices a Common Standard
Final Word: Make Your Voice Heard
The FTC report is a first step in re-focusing the industry on unresolved consumer protection and privacy issues, but the agency needs to hear from stakeholders in the commercial sector about whether its framework actually makes sense. This comment period is only open until January 31, 2011, which may be challenging for most marketers to consider until after the holidays have passed. Please note that there are so many aspects to the questions being asked that could negatively impact marketers. Companies must engage directly with the FTC so that these issues can be solved in lieu of federal or state legislation that could be dramatically worse than the proposed framework.
Engage others in commentary online here on this column, through your own social media channels, or better yet - join your relevant trade association that can foster collaboration with others and file comments on your behalf. Whatever you do, don't allow the FTC to finalize a framework that may directly impact your business without your voice being heard.
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Ben Isaacson is the privacy and compliance leader for Experian, overseeing Internet and advanced technology privacy and compliance affairs across Experian Marketing Services products including CheetahMail, Digital Advertising Services, and Hitwise. Mr. Isaacson's previous roles include serving as the executive director of the Association for Interactive Marketing (AIM), a former DMA subsidiary. He regularly blogs at EmailResponsibly.com.
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